De Boer convinced 3-4-3 is best for Atlanta United

Atlanta United’s Pity Martinez fights for control during Saturday night’s game against the New York Red Bulls.
Atlanta United’s Pity Martinez fights for control during Saturday night’s game against the New York Red Bulls.

Editor’s note: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution opted not to attend the resumption of the MLS season in Orlando amid the COVID-19 pandemic. League safety precautions severely limit the AJC’s in-depth coverage of the Atlanta United. The following report has been compiled from television broadcast and video conference interviews.

Though his team was shut out for the first time in 28 league games in Saturday's 1-0 loss to New York Red Bulls in its opening game of the MLS tournament, Atlanta United manager Frank de Boer said the return to the 3-4-3 formation is the best system because the team has so many quality attacking players.

“I’m really convinced that we can be an attacking side,” he said. “As your colleague mentioned earlier we had over 20 crosses tonight. That’s what I want to see. I want the initiative to come from the center backs and the wing backs. We have a lot of offensive players. I want to see an attacking side, that’s what Atlanta expects, that’s what our fans expect. We showed some glimpses of it. I think in this system we can do that. If you see the players that we have, it’s a perfect fit for them.”

The 3-4-3 formation was used to start the 2019 season, de Boer’s first in charge. After a string of average performances and team meetings, de Boer experimented until landing on the 3-5-2 the team used in the playoffs the previous season under Gerardo Martino. It was again successful with the team  winning the U.S. Open Cup and Campeones Cup, joining the MLS Cup in 2018 as the team’s three major trophies.

The formation was again used most of the time in the team’s opening five games (three in Champions League, two in league) this season.

And then came Saturday’s surprise.

While the final result wasn’t satisfying to de Boer or his players, there were several positive moments.

The Five Stripes took 14 shots, putting four on goal, only one of which, a header by Adam Jahn in the final seconds, made the goalkeeper work.

George Bello hit the crossbar, which doesn’t count as a shot on goal. Manuel Castro couldn’t reach a quality cross by Brooks Lennon in the first half and missed the goal entirely on two quality opportunities early in the second half.

“The crosses have to be better, but the occupation in the box itself has to of course be better,” de Boer said. “I think the finishing as well. We had two crosses tonight to Manuel Castro and two times he mishit it. So, it’s not a shot on goal, but for me it’s a good chance. In the first half, Brooks gave a good cross that was a little too hard maybe and Castro couldn’t control it. If the ball is a little slower, he can have an easy tap-in or control it and have a big opportunity. It’s not only the delivery, sometimes it’s the play, sometimes it’s the delivery or the occupation in the box.”

Individually, there were several bright spots that support de Boer’s argument. Bello and Lennon were dangerous on the wings. Lennon was credited with two chances created. Bello wasn’t credited with any but he speed was a constant threat down the left and could have had a goal. Defensively, goalkeeper Brad Guzan said he could be more aware but that comes with experience.

Matheus Rossetto, in his first start, was credited with creating two chances.

Jahn, a late sub, proved a a quality target man for crosses with his header arrowing toward the upper corner until saved by David Jensen to deny Atlanta United a valuable point.

Pity Martinez was arguably the team’s best player in the formation. He created a team-high four chances and put two of this three shots on goal. He was most dangerous in the second half when he played wide on the left. From there, he whipped in numerous dangerous crosses. He finished with six crosses from open play and five from set plays. Only one found a target, which may be more a reflection of bad luck than a lack of quality.

“I see a lot of positive things, but we are Atlanta United,” de Boer said. “We want to win every game and that’s the attitude we want to see of course. We are never satisfied with a point or with no points.”

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